Staunton, April 16 – Vladimir Putin still retains the power to decide what issues to delegate to subordinates and what to retain under his personal control, Tatyana Stanovaya has; but several recent cases show that the space for independent action by his subordinates has grown and the likelihood of their being punished for it has not.
And consequently, the Moscow analyst says, while it is “premature” to speak of Putin’s weakness, it is clear that on many issues, he no longer determines the specific outcomes on many questions nearly as much as he did prior to the Crimean Anschluss in 2014 (/republic.ru/posts/81903?utm_source=slon.ru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=saturday).
Before that time, Stanovaya continues, Putin’s subordinates saw taking the initiative as a risk, “now, they view it as a means of salvation.” He can still “intervene and correct” things at any moment, “but with each year this will be more complicated and he will look ever weaker” to those around him and the attentive public.
According to the analyst, “the system is moving toward a regime of self-administration under conditions when Putin may not be up to it.” Indeed, she argues, that is the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from the strange chronology concerning the dismissal of Leonid Markelov as head of Mari El and his subsequent but not immediate arrest for corruption.
Markelov stepped down “at his own request,” as the current formula has it, but clearly at the insistence of Putin who indicated that the now former republic leader would be transferred to other work. But every soon after that, the FSB provided the evidence that led to Markelov’s being charged and arrested.
This sequence, Stanovaya says, “at a minimum” made Putin look “stupid.” press secretary Dmitry Peskov “in trying to save the face of his chief, “sought some not very convincing explanations.” But “in the public space,” these events has led people to “actively discuss the increasing chaos [in the Kremlin], the weakening of the president, and the unlimited ability to act of the special services.”
“For too long we have convinced one another that a personalist regime has been built in the country, that decisions are taken on the basis of hands’ on administration, and that Putin personally is involved in all issues and stands behind every relatively significant cadre or political move.”
In fact, Stanovaya argues, there are many issues on which even Putin’s decisions are made not by him independently but according to which individual or institution gets to him first and that is what happened in this case. Markelov had made enemies in the special services and the KPRF, but Putin’s decision to remove him was made in the Presidential Administration.
The latter was interested only in shifting him out of the governor’s position; the former wanted to punish him for what it felt were Markelov’s actions against the interests of that alliance. The latter got to Putin first, but when the former learned of what had happened, they got to the Kremlin leader and he agreed to what they wanted.
In short, Stanovaya says, this is an example of what real politics looks like in Putin’s regime as he approaches re-election. He can act as he wants but he can’t want everything he wants if he is to retain the support of those he is convinced he needs.